MESA, Ariz. — It’s a different kind of year when some of the questions being asked to the Chicago Cubs’ leader have to deal with on-field drills.
But it was the edict of the front office that the manager get more involved with instruction and teaching with his team in 2019. Joe Maddon wasn’t about to disappoint them.
On Sunday he ran a hitting drill before the team’s game with the Giants in Scottsdale, that caught reporter’s eyes and drew their questions before the second spring training game for the Cubs.
“Doing that situational hitting thing,” said Maddon on Sunday.
It’s part of the extra work he’s doing with Cubs’ batters this offseason, this after the team had a notable flameout in the final month of the season. Eight times in September, they were held to zero or one run by their opponent, as a once five-game lead in the NL Central evaporated, forcing the team into a one-game tiebreaker.
The Cubs scored just one run in that loss to the Brewers, then got the same amount in a loss in the Wild Card game to the Rockies the next night. That brought about the earliest end of a season in the Maddon era, and a change in teaching in 2019.
“There is so much of this game that is slanted to the pitching and defensive side,” said Maddon. “I’ve been really trying to think about it the last several years: ‘What’s going to come along that’s going to permit hitters to catch up?’ It hasn’t arrived yet.”
But when the team arrived at camp, they were ready to do what they could to close the gap. In the conversation about the drills, Maddon praised his team for their focus and willingness to accept the teaching as the workouts continue in Mesa towards the start of the 2019 season.
“The one thing I wanted them to understand is I’ve not seen you this open before. So does edge equal openness, or does openness equal edge? I don’t know. But they’re so easy to interact with right now and that’s the part I’m really enjoying,” said Maddon. “The work is really focused and I really anticipate it’s going to stay there. It’s kinda fun.”
These are all early observations, of course, and Maddon admitted you can’t judge a lot for what goes on over the next month in Mesa. Whether positive or negative, however, Maddon points to the past performances of the team’s key hitters to feel good about what they can rediscover during the 2019 season.
“I really like what I’m seeing, the work like I said, and these guys are good,” said Maddon. “KB has been an MVP already, ‘Javy’ almost was one last year, ‘Riz’ sound be in the running every year. All these other guys are ascending. (Albert) Almora, (Kyle) Schwarber. I still believe (Willson) Contreras is the best catcher in the National League, we’ve just got to get him unearthed on the offensive side.
“So there’s so much going on out there.”
This year Maddon is doing what he can to be apart of it, and make it work the best for his team.